CORVALLIS, Ore. – You’re ready to get out the lights, the garlands, the baubles and balls, but don’t get ahead of yourself.
“Know how to choose a fresh tree and how to keep it that way or you’ll be disappointed,” said Chal Landgren, a Christmas tree specialist with Oregon State University’s Extension Service. “It’s also not safe to have a dried-out tree in the house, so it’s doubly important to know what to do.”
A lot of information swirls around the issue of how to purchase and preserve a Christmas tree once you get it home, some of it misleading. Landgren helps you get it right with answers to the most pressing questions.
Q. How do I know a tree is fresh when I purchase it?
A. Choose a tree that looks green and healthy with needles that snap like a fresh carrot. Shake it a few times to get rid of old needles. When you’re home, place the tree in water if you do not plan to put it up immediately. Choose a large, water-filled stand to display the tree indoors. Check the water level daily; trees will be very thirsty the first few days inside a heated home.
Q. Do I need to re-cut the stem after I get my tree home?
A. Yes, if more than 24 hours has elapsed since the stem was last cut. The fresh cut helps water uptake and the sooner you can get the tree into water, the fresher it will be.
Q. Do I need to cut 2 inches off the tree base for it to take up water in the stand?
A. No, cutting 1/2-inch slice off the base is plenty for water uptake. However, clearing the ceiling is another question.
Q. Do I need to cut the base of the trees at an angle, drill holes in the base or install plastic tubes so the tree can get water?
A. No. Water begins the path up the tree via microscopic tubes called "tracheids" in the wood just beneath the bark. The wood near the outer part of the stem conducts water efficiently and becomes less so toward the center. Simply cut the stem perpendicular to the trunk to maximize the area exposed to the water. Complicated cuts, drill holes or I.V. tubes do not help.
Q. Do I need to add something to the water to help the tree stay fresher?
A. People have added all kinds of things to water, including vodka, 7-Up, bleach, aspirin and sugar. However, clean, cold water is all that is needed. Some additives actually can cause the tree to shed needles or dry out more rapidly.
Q. Will any tree stand work, as long as it holds the tree up?
A. No. A stand should hold a quart of water for every inch of stem diameter. A tree with a 6-inch stem diameter will need a stand that holds a gallon and a half of water. Very few stands have the capacity for today's large trees. Consider purchasing a new stand, or a smaller tree, if the water capacity is not adequate
Q. If my decorated tree runs out of water, do I need to take it down and re-cut the base?
A. No. If you refill the water stand within 24 hours of going dry, most trees (Douglas fir, noble, Nordmann, Fraser) should re-hydrate just fine. For grand fir, 12 hours may be the limit. Of course, it's best if the tree does not run out of water, so check it every day, especially the first few days. Your pets may be helping themselves to the water, too. If your tree becomes dry and brittle, it may be time to take it down.